After three children, three miscarriages and selling all of my maternity stuff at almost 42, God gave me an angel gift. Her name, providentially, is Joy. She is an out of the box, lovely, best friend, hysterical, spiritual, extrovert; a great actress, singer-songwriter and confident from the get-go.
One Sunday morning a few years ago might be one of my best memories for a long time. Joy and I, in our jammies and crazy bed hair, sat close on Sarah's bed, (we missed her so sometimes we'd just sit in her room) sipping mochas I had made, with candles lit and she and I just talked and giggled and shared our thoughts and ideas for almost an hour. She got my computer and played several songs for me that meant something to her, that she had listened to at midnight the night before. I have learned to love Joy's songs and listen to them on my own computer and download them, because they are very dear to her. My almost 60+ year old self has learned to love the songs my teens and 20's are listening to--it has given me a window to their hearts.
This was the context in which we became the best of friends--investing time to enjoy each other's company from the very first.
I do not expect my children to conform to me and my age of values--I let them be who they are at every season of life and I have adjusted my own age expectations to enjoy and really delight in who they are at every stage. It has brought me much pleasure. But I had to give up a little of my selfish self to enter their world. And so did God, and became Jesus.
As with all of my children, though, Joy has a particular type of mothering she best responds to--not the same as the others. I had to study and observe her to find out what was in her heart--her personality, what spoke love to her, and how to fill her heart's cup so I could reach her heart with a love for Jesus.
Discipleship is always an issue of relationship.
It is not about curriculum, church attendance, rules, or indoctrination, but always about reaching the heart.
I remember when Nathan was a little boy, and often challenging the boundaries, I had to study him. He was a little of a mystery as my other two had been more compliant and I thought that had been because I was such a great mother. Then God gave me Nathan, and I realized I needed a different way of mothering in order to reach him.
One night, when Clay had taken the older two to church and left Nathan home with me because he had a cold, I sat wearily in an overstuffed chair and said, "Hey, you want to climb into the chair with me?"
I remember he snuggled in and then began to talk. He talked for 45 minutes without stopping, as long as I said, "Really?" or "Oh!" or how funny!" After he had talked for almost an hour, he said, "I love you, mom!" And then he jumped out of the chair and went to play. He was 5 years old.
I was pondering this event--him sitting still for this long and talking and talking and talking, and suddenly it dawned on me--"He is an extrovert! He needs people and activity, and wants to talk and be heard."
So, I learned the way to Nathan's heart was spending time alone with him, listening to him--his dreams, his thoughts, his ideas, his feelings. As long as I made alone time with him, he would listen to me and try to obey.
Same with Joy. If she felt lost in the crowd, she would get louder, perform, and find ways to call attention to herself. And then if I went to her room or sat on the porch and sipped lemonade or made a special tea time in my room just for us, she would talk and talk and talk. Then her heart would be open.
Joel would just withdraw and be grumpy or get irritated. He was not a "mis-behaver"! But if I made personal time with him away from the group, he would bubble over with talking to me--he was an introvert, just like Sarah. Neither of them would compete openly with the others for heart time, but I had to assume they needed it and then carve a planned time in the midst of my busy schedule and make it happen. This opened the window of their heart to develop a great, strong, deep friendship.
Each child responded differently and I had to figure out what they liked and what communicated personal love to them, and then I saw their little and big hearts opened. And as it happens, I found that Clay did not want to compete with the kids and I had to learn to get time with just us, so I could hear him and know what was going on. If I did not create the time for us, it would never happen.
Now, I had four children, homeschooled, traveled with Clay and spoke and had a ministry and wrote books. So, it was not easy to carve out this time. I did not have this personal time every week. But when I observed Jesus's influence on his disciples and saw how he spent time personally with them, away from the crowds, and affirmed them uniquely for their personality--(John, the disciple Jesus loved; Peter, the rock; Nathanael, a man in whom there is no guile.) I began to realize that each of us wants to be defined by God's unique personality that He created, and to be validated for who we really are in a personal way.
But when I would plan my week, because my sweet ones were a priority, and I believed that this was the way to win their hearts for the Lord, I would plan in "little dates". I looked for it in the busy moments and tucked them in here and there. When they were little we were always a gang together, but I would look for ways to snuggle them in my room all by themselves. Yes, my children shared rooms and that kept them from being lonely, but still, they needed mama and some personal sympathy time.
I kept cookie dough balls or fruit, nuts and cheese chunks available all the time and when my radar told me that someone was not doing well or was angry or having problems, I would have a private, 15 minute "tea time" with them, just to talk and take their emotional temperature.
I found when they were teenagers, because I had invested "me" time with them, I was always the go-to person for them when they had secrets, fears, or problems. And Clay and I would have times in our bedroom, behind closed doors when we would counsel and talk. As teens, I would take my boys out, by themselves, for breakfast every week or two, just to keep the channels of conversations going. For Sarah, it was a Saturday morning walk and coffee at a French cafe for almost eight years, and for Joy, it was breakfast alone in her room or mine at least once a week, away from all the older teens.
Just remember, your children are like you--they long for love and listening--not always advising, and a heart that delights in them. But it doesn't just happen, it must be planned.
How can you plan a fun, set-aside time with your own children this week?